How to Use Textures to Enhance Your Photographs

How to Use Textures to Enhance Your Photographs

In this post Patrick Dean from NeutralDay.comexplores how to use Textures to enhance an image.


If you’ve spent anytime at all exploring sites like Flickr, I’m sure you’ve notice a good many photographs that have a certain “vintage” look to them, a patina if you will. There are many variations to this theme, ranging from simple toning to full blown distressing of the photograph complete with film like grain or scratches and surface variation resembling an old or imperfect photo. Up till now you might have thought that achieving this look was difficult and time consuming, but in fact it is remarkably easy, and it is done using textures.
What exactly is a texture? The term texture when used in photoshop refers to an image that is used  on top of your own image that when adjusted via blend modes or opacity imparts a “texture” on your image. The “texture” doesn’t have to be of a physical texture, in fact it could be nearly anything, including another photo. Generally however textures will be photographs or scans of old pieces of paper, fabric, a hand written letter, etc. But it could be a image of clouds, rain drops on a windshield, a bokeh pattern, bubbles, water reflections, and on and on. That’s the beauty of using textures, they could be anything and combined infinitely to create a wide range of different looks.

Of course this variation makes it seem a bit more confusing than it is, but to clear up any confusion I’ve provided a walk through on how to use a couple of textures that make a good photo into a very interesting photo. It’s easy to overdo textures, and I prefer to not stray to far from my original material, but you could take this is as far as you want with as many textures as you want.

For this we’ll be using Photoshop CS4 (any version will do, including Elements), an original image, and a couple of textures. To acquire your own textures you can scan or photograph your own, or alternatively, check out sources like flickr or deviantArt for literally thousands of free textures that you can use in your work. In this case I used a paper texture similar to this one (via flickr member: Feodora Umarov), and a bokeh texture available here  (via flickr member: laughlinc). Both are free to use as textures in your work under the creative commons license, but by all means browse around for further possibilities.

The Original Image


I picked this image because of the brooding mood of the subject and ample negative space. I really like the photo and the out of focus quality present, but it could use a little “enhancement”

Step 1


Open up your original image in Photoshop.

Step 2


Open up your texture file in Photoshop. Here’s mine, an old piece of scanned paper. You should now have 2 files open in Photoshop. Drag the texture file onto your original image file to add it as a layer. For CS4 users, drag the texture layer to the original image tab (if you’re using the tabs), until the original image is displayed, then let the texture file go on the original image to add it as a layer.

Step 3


Re-size the texture layer so that it covers your original image entirely. With the texture layer highlighted in the layers palette, use the shortcut command/control T to resize the texture layer. Press “return/enter” to finalize your resize.

Step 4


This is where the magic happens. We’re going to change the blend mode of the layer in the layers palette. Blend modes change how one layer interacts with the layer/s below it. In this case we’ll start with multiply.

Step 5


Notice right away we’ve produced a more vintage feel to the image. This could easily be one direction to go, but lets try another blend mode.

Step 6


Overlay helps to lighten the image, and though it’s too bright, I like this direction even more. The beauty of layers is that we can adjust their opacity and their positions.

Step 7


In this step I’ve duplicated the original (background layer). I’ll use this layer as a “texture” as well, in part to help tone down the final results. Move the original texture down so that it sits between the background copies.

Step 8


The result of the duplicated background layer placed on top of the paper texture and set to soft light blend mode at 84% opacity. There’s no science here, the fun part is experimenting with opacity and blend modes, and even layer order. But really all I’ve done is add one texture and change a blend mode and already it’s made a nice change. You could stop here, but let’s add one more texture.

Step 9


Open up your additional texture (I’m using a bokeh pattern here) and add to your layers by dragging it onto your original image.

Step 10


Here I’ve moved down below the background copy layer and the first texture layer. The blend mode has been changed to overlay with a 33% opacity. Again, this is the fun part so be sure to try all the various blend modes to get the look you desire.

Step 11


The hard part is done, now just some tweaking to dial in the look we’re going for. Here I’ve added a color balance adjustment layer in order to get the red/yellow tones I’m looking for.

Step 12


In this step I’ve added a couple of hue/saturation adjustment layers. One to address the excessive yellow, and one to lighten up the image.

Step 13


The final image. It has a wonderful tone and atmospheric quality to it, and I like the overall feel much better than the original. As I said before, it’s easy to go too far, but you can always go back into the layers palette and dial down the opacity of the various layers till you get the right “balance”. What’s great about textures is the final result looks more significant than the actual process. It’s not for every image, but the simple process of using textures can add some big impact to your work.

Patrick Dean is a photographer, graphic designer and editor of the photography news and reviews website

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Some Older Comments

  • Kate May 27, 2012 01:17 pm

    Thank you so much. This was a very clear tutorial and that's hard to find. I appreciate it.

  • sisatel March 2, 2012 10:00 pm

    love love love love... all love for the post... i wish i knew photoshop as well as u do! :(

  • Dikkilead January 24, 2012 03:07 am

    Sometimes the bleeding obvious needs stating (for someone)!!!! Did I know most of this before, yes - am I glad I read the article, YES. What one person finds really useful, another will find mind-numbing.

    I was particularly interested in your choice of textures - I like to create my own, and you have given me some great ideas.

    I am a trainer myself, and I really find your style and language very clear and as such very inclusive (beginner to expert). Great job!

  • Jolene September 18, 2011 02:40 am

    Thank you so much, you have opened up a whole new world of possibilities!

  • Rich September 12, 2011 10:14 am

    I must be an idioy NOOb, because I am using CS4 and cant get anything to drag and drop for me...Have both opened but trying to drag texture layer to original tab and it does nothing. Im freaking out!

  • Eric Bjerke February 22, 2011 06:09 pm

    Textures always sort of confused me. I understand how to blend them and all (thanks for making it even clearer!), but I always struggled with which textures would look right with which photos. I am specifically interested in someone telling me whether or not with people, you often need to "erase" the texture where it afftects the face. Thanks!

  • Kacy S. December 8, 2010 01:51 am

    For all of us "noobs" out there just learning how to work with textures, I THANK YOU from the bottom of my noob heart! This is SIMPLE and DETAILED, which is why it is sooo wonderful for us NOOBIES. I appreciate the concepts and the opportunities this provides for my creativity of clicks! Thank you!

  • Kelli October 28, 2010 01:16 pm

    New to PSE and this tutorial was so helpful. thank you!

  • Tom Leparskas September 15, 2010 09:22 pm

    I'm a long time photoshop user - not a NOOB, but only recently have thought about texture layers in my photos. Of all the tutorials I searched thru this was the the clearest and easiest to get started with. The rest is now up to my imagination.
    Appreciate it - thanks!

  • Tom Leparskas September 15, 2010 09:21 pm

    I'm a long time photoshop user - not a NOOB, but only recently have thought about texture layers in my photos. Of all the tutorials I searched thru this was the the clearest and easiest to get started with. The rest is now up to my imagination.
    Appreciate it - thanks!

  • Merideth July 24, 2010 01:14 pm

    I used your tutorial and mentioned it in my blog . Thanks for posting!

  • pinkngray June 28, 2010 09:45 am

    how did u resize the texture? i cant figure out how to resize the layer

  • spamzeke June 28, 2010 02:26 am

    I love this! I keep coming back to it. Have used the concepts many times. Thanks again!

  • Denver Photographer June 23, 2010 01:00 pm

    I thought this was great. The only think it was missing was the fact that you really need to use layer masks to properly use textures. you don't want all the texture showing up in the shot.

  • Carol June 13, 2010 11:41 pm

    In my line of business I use textures a lot. I will go on location to different historic events, then convert my photos to the type of art done during that period.

    Revolutionary war (mostly oil)

    Civil War (pencil)

    Turn of the Century use textures to age it

    I like using textures

  • michelle cunningham June 12, 2010 10:09 pm

    you know... i've used actions for so long without understanding how it was done and now you've just simplified it for me. i love you for that. lightbulb!

  • Elizabeth Donoghue June 12, 2010 09:30 am

    Thank you so much, I have got a lot out of this and have been playing with pictures of my new grand-daughter with it.

  • Lars Wentzel January 29, 2010 04:11 pm

    Thanks Patrick for the quick and to the point lesson on working with textures. Very helpful. As far as the amateur level comments...please, we were all amateurs once somewhere in life...if the uber graphic artist would like to learn about quartals and triads in jazz music send me an email for a lesson. And that would make him am amateur like I was before I learned how to play them. We help each other by sharing information and knowledge.

  • Arslan Iqbal Siddiqui January 21, 2010 10:02 pm

    thankz for everything...

    just see this
    Fallen leaf...
    [eimg link='' title='fallen leaf...' url='']

  • Arslan Iqbal Siddiqui January 21, 2010 09:58 pm

    All the thanks in the world, I have been following DPS for seven months now...

    Just see for yourself...
    Fallen leaf...[eimg link='' title='fallen leaf...' url='']

  • spamzeke January 12, 2010 06:53 am

    Thank you! I used my own picture and made the tutorial my own and am very happy with the results.

  • Aja Shoup January 6, 2010 07:15 am

    Thank you... this is the creativity I have been searching for!!

  • molly January 4, 2010 09:11 am

    wow. good tutorial... really helpful to enhance pics :)

  • wazari January 2, 2010 11:28 am

    Very good tutorial indeed, very easy to understand, it's so true that some texture really can add feel into some picture, vintage feel or retro old school feel. I really like playing with texture, it involve a lot trial and error since not all picture will look great if we use texture. Thanks for sharing...

  • Matthieu January 1, 2010 10:28 am

    Can anyone send me a link to a tutorial to do this on gimp please...

  • johnny December 31, 2009 09:53 pm

    Thank you!

  • Robert Jackson December 31, 2009 11:46 am

    Will This work with layers in Photoshop Elements?

  • Adam December 7, 2009 01:55 pm

    I'd been wondering how to do this for so long... here I was googling for words like 'vintage' I never thought it would be textures that I need then I find this article when just browsing! Thanks.

  • Carol Lundeen December 4, 2009 10:20 pm

    Love the bokeh layer - nicely done, and nicely explained.

  • jayantilal November 12, 2009 04:38 pm

    nice explanations

  • jayantilal November 12, 2009 04:36 pm

    nice explnatory sublect thanks for sharing

  • nirmal September 29, 2009 08:11 pm

    i dont have words to thank you. this was very helpful to me. thanks again. keep it up.

  • shinigamiboi September 11, 2009 11:53 pm

    thanks :D

    heres one.

  • Joseph William Photography August 28, 2009 03:27 am

    Thank for your informative post... I want to start using textures more often after seeing your examples!

  • Mandi August 27, 2009 05:09 am

    Thanks for the great tutorial DPS! I have been wanting to try textures for a while now, but I wasn't quite sure how to do it.
    Here's one I just did:

    I think I overdid it a little, but it was fun anyway :)

  • Joey Rico August 7, 2009 12:08 pm

    wow this is great!!!! really like images with textures!!!

  • Jasen Robillard August 7, 2009 07:46 am

    I've created two reference mosaics on Flickr that allow you to quickly find some of the best Creative Commons textures on Flickr. You can find the most recent Creative Commons Texture Mosaic here. I also my own texture set on Flickr.

  • Landscape Photography August 5, 2009 11:44 am

    A good tut that is sure to be helpful to many... not everyone knows how to use layers so articles like this certainly do have a place even if some consider them to be amatuer.

  • Eric Magnuson August 4, 2009 08:36 pm

    I've been discovering lately how nice textures are! Awesome tut.

  • photofun August 3, 2009 01:06 am

    Awesome...Greatly appreciated nicely done

  • crlin August 2, 2009 09:13 am

    Great tutorial! Thank you so much!

  • oliverignacio July 31, 2009 01:12 pm

    Nice one. Thanks!

  • vicknes July 31, 2009 11:28 am

    this is blooody awesome!!!thanks a bunch for the share

  • Rolling Stone July 31, 2009 11:16 am

    Great tut!

    Reznor Says:

    July 30th, 2009 at 12:16 am
    Agree with graphicartist2k5 about the amateur level of this article but after all this is Digital Photography SCHOOL, so there propably are a lot of people who’ll appreciate this. I would love a list of good free sites that offer high quality textures. Just taking textures from Flickr just doesn’t cut it for me. I don’t wanna ask the original photographers for permission every time I use a texture

    Why not shoot your own textures? I've just started. Also have a folder for myself of just textures.

  • Isis July 31, 2009 08:46 am

    This was so much fun!!!!!!!!

  • Thanh July 31, 2009 06:46 am

    Thanks for the tips, I think I'm become some kind of addicted with that. This what I'v done with a photo taken yesterday :

  • Gerry July 31, 2009 05:16 am

    Thanks for the effort - this is very clear and easy to use - there are many new people to photography and a school is a place for teaching these novices, thansk for your efforts.

  • C.B. July 31, 2009 04:37 am

    Nice tut. Someone mentioned wanting links to free texture sites, so I wanted to pop in and point out title="CGTextures"> which has been a lifesaver for me many times.

  • Connie Kurtew July 31, 2009 04:20 am

    great! thank you!!!

  • Benjamin July 31, 2009 04:03 am

    Great tutorial! Here's one of mine:

  • Justin July 30, 2009 06:36 pm

    If your after any fresh textures try they are all high resolution @ 300dpi

  • Matt Matos July 30, 2009 04:14 pm

    There are a lot of tutorials like these on deviantART. It is fun but tend to depend too much on adding textures and layering, it's a lazy and easy way to improve photographs that originally had nothing to say about them. A fun experiment for those who haven't yet. Have fun but don't get stuck on a vicious cycle, be creative... good ol' saying but "Rome wasn't built in a day!".


  • samsstuff July 30, 2009 06:07 am

    Not only is this fairly easy to do, but it's fun & the textures, etc. can be used to create layers of meaning & depth. It's like painting with a program instead of a brush.

  • Silverzz July 30, 2009 02:59 am

    Good tutorial, well explained and the finished result looks great.

  • ThomasK July 30, 2009 01:19 am

    Thanks for this good and simple Tutorial! Makes me wanna use Textures more often :)

  • Tom July 30, 2009 12:53 am

    Well congratulations on already knowing how to do this graphicartist2k5, there are 15 comments before you that appreciate the article so clearly not _everyone_ knows how to do this.

    Great article.

  • mikeread July 30, 2009 12:27 am

    great tut! I have been doing something like this just a few days ago.

    feel free to replace your "bokeh" pattern with thees
    use overlay or screen blend mode / filter

  • Reznor July 30, 2009 12:16 am

    Agree with graphicartist2k5 about the amateur level of this article but after all this is Digital Photography SCHOOL, so there propably are a lot of people who'll appreciate this. I would love a list of good free sites that offer high quality textures. Just taking textures from Flickr just doesn't cut it for me. I don't wanna ask the original photographers for permission every time I use a texture.

  • Jared Lynem July 30, 2009 12:14 am

    very nice!

    you can do similar stuff with grainy, dusty negatives and a cheap camera with some vignetting.

  • graphicartist2k5 July 29, 2009 11:59 pm

    Talk about a noob tutorial. This isn't really anything ground-breaking, unless you're learning how to use Photoshop for the first time. Seriously, it's not that hard to change the blending modes on different layers. This could EASILY be done in any version of Photoshop that supports layers and layer blending. But then again, graphic designers already know these things because we work with Photoshop every day. To me, this tutorial looks VERY dated mainly because there have been tutorials on the internet pretty much like this one for a LONG time now.

  • Ralph Thomas July 29, 2009 11:00 pm

    Best tutorial I have ever seen, Very clear and easy to follow.Use of images to show change in every step excellent. This is the first time I have ever commented on a tutorial. Very well done I intend to use your excellent approach with my photos. Thank you.

  • Thanh July 29, 2009 10:38 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I have probably a couple of photos that deserve to have such a treatment.

  • Gordon July 29, 2009 10:08 pm

    Great tutorial, a really useful technique to know. Thanks for posting.

  • piet July 29, 2009 09:53 pm

    this was a real nice tutorial. very worthwhile.thans ever so much. piet s

  • fotofriend July 29, 2009 06:09 pm

    Lovely tutorial! The bokeh pattern does the difference, although very soft, it gives a powerful effect to the image

  • Technical_Tim July 29, 2009 05:23 pm

    An excellent tutorial giving some food for thought, I think I'll be having a go with this on some photos

  • Pauline July 29, 2009 05:09 pm

    Oh, I already knew how to do this but fell in love with the textures (especially the last one). Any chans they could be available for download?

  • Robin Ryan July 29, 2009 04:27 pm

    I've really, really been enjoying this approach. Here's a rework I did of the Grand Central Station in NYC run through 2 textures

    I hope you like it - feel free to hit me up if you want more details on which textures I used.

  • Robin Ryan July 29, 2009 01:27 pm

    Okay, I wanted to try it out.

    I used two textures grabbed off of flickr

    here's my result:

    I love how it turned out. Im going to try out some other ones now.

  • Peter July 29, 2009 11:50 am

    Thank you for opening up another door to our imagination...

    nice post dPS...

  • Robin Ryan July 29, 2009 11:47 am

    Great article! Has anybody done in another way with lightroom?

  • Patrick Dean July 29, 2009 11:44 am

    Thanks everyone who's responded. As I hopefully made clear, using textures isn't just easy but can add a nice look, really after step 5, everything looks interesting. Definitely a fun addition to your bag of tricks...

  • Matt Larson July 29, 2009 10:57 am

    This might be the best tip I've seen on this blog, thanks!

  • Brian Henson July 29, 2009 10:48 am

    Sweet tutorial!!

  • Marshall July 29, 2009 10:28 am

    This was really helpful! Thanks! Just took me a couple of minutes to put together something cool.

  • Chas Elliott July 29, 2009 10:25 am

    Very nice. Thnx.

  • AlainP July 29, 2009 10:08 am

    A quick and dirty way to achieve about the same result in aperture is to add noise, add a sepia layer (low opacity), vignette and play with the luma level.

    But the bokeh layer is a very good idea! I really adds a nice touch. I will have to make a few templates of these!


  • Elizabeth Richardson July 29, 2009 09:44 am

    I've always wanted to know how to add layers...such a simple method really...I appreciate the time and effort you've taken to create this tutorial.